It was the perfect sunny day activity, blue skies and Brian Wilson: just the wind and I, soaring the summers away. I can still feel the sun on my face, arms outstretched as wings, free as a bird, humming along to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”
A WINDOW TO THE COSMOS
Now, as a 35 year old, I’m forever searching for excuses to drive fast with the windows down, playing rock’ n’ roll loud enough to drown out all the softer, more subtle parts of myself. The right car and the right guitar lick make me invincible, and the wind is pure, unfiltered possibility blowing through my hair. Bob Dylan wasn’t wrong when he sang that’s where the answers are. It’s where life is, in its most primal, kinetic, big bang form.
In these moments, I don’t doubt the theory of life that places us as direct descendents of the cosmos. I am all stardust and light speed.
Live rock shows also rocket my soul straight into the stratosphere, shout-singing along with strangers who heard the same siren’s call and wanted to inject the same hymns into their bloodstreams, hearts beating the rhythm through our veins. It’s loud, and sweaty, and it’s sacred; cacophony sings its own sweet melody after all, backlit by the bar, smoky and beer-soaked. There are always too many tall guys, too many people pushing their way up front trying to get the copy of the setlist, too many selfies and cell phones. There is beauty in all of it, and unbridled joy, and the very stuff of life in the excess.
Music as a Magic Carpet Ride
The setlists and selfies have always struck me as unnecessary, because here is the secret that I knew even as a 7 or 8 year old on my ten-speed bike. Music is more than a window.
Yes, it takes us on magic carpet rides, in aeroplanes over the sea, and leaves us free fallin’ even as it begs us to come fly away; but it also makes us gaze back at ourselves, eyeing the shapes of our memories and our dreams, seeing how our silhouettes are filled in by the raw, messy ids and egos, putting our own scenes to the soundtrack. It’s a mirror.
My first real rock show was at a small club in Minneapolis, singing along to every word, caught up in the rapture of flying off the dance floor with the other worshipers. The band was Weezer, the venue was my beloved First Avenue (of Purple Rain fame), I was a sophomore in high school and it was the all-ages afternoon show, and I’ve reveled ever since in recreating the weightlessness I felt that day.
I see how the music recognized me, marked me as its own, and how it both satiated, and left me wanting, always wanting more. When I hear a song I love, my soul dances with arms outstretched, lifting off into the heavens, already begging for an encore. This is what I see in the metaphorical mirror, the same as I saw at 8 and 15: I am flying.
Scores in Quarantine
In 2020, in quarantine, there’s nowhere to drive to, at least nowhere that justifies turning the radio up and putting the windows down. The small, dark clubs with sordid histories and questionable bathrooms are all shuttered, along with the big arenas, and dive bars with makeshift stages. Our days are scored by spotify playlists, old records, and instagram live shows; when it gets too painful in this temporary cage of existence to listen to music, podcasts.
None of it quite reaches far enough, just takes passing stabs, like seeing beautiful old pictures of a past you can’t get back. I’ve seen posts by friends, mourning as the calendar makes its way past the now cancelled shows and tours of their favorite bands, read articles by Rob Sheffield and Dave Grohl lamenting the loss of a way of life for musicians and music lovers alike, and talked to friends who teach, who never got to introduce this year’s students to music they love.
All of us, chewing on our grief; hoping to break it down into something we can swallow, while the right songs play in the background in the wrong key, at the wrong moment in the movie. When we stretch our arms out, we feel the walls closing in. My friends and I started a movie club in March, and one night, we watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Sad and beautiful, it captures the moment when music lifts off.
Afterwards, I collected my friends’ songs, the ones that take them somewhere, suspending time and gravity’s hold, and then I tried to write about them.
I can’t. In this infinite time that has no starts and stops, they’ve all been transformed into funeral dirges. They hurt, and they sting with grief, uncertainty, and fear of the future.
I’ve gone back to the first songs that stuck to me, rooted in the corners of my heart and mind, the soundtrack to first kisses, and first losses, and nights that felt wider than the world. I’ve gone back to Weezer, and the Beach Boys, and all their friends, and knelt at their feet, praying for some reassurance that I can still connect to the stars, and the pounding of the bass, and the confetti floating alongside me through the air.
The b-side of my Beach Boys tape had their song In My Room on it, and these days, the sweet little surf-pop song reminds me that even though it’s dark and lonely right now, I will fly again. So will you.